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Friday, 22 August 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: Red Tide

This is a review of the RPG setting/supplement “Red Tide: Adventure in a Crimson World”, written by Kevin Crawford, published by Sine Nomine publishing.  The review is of the print edition, which is a softcover, 170 pages long or thereabouts, with a full-colour cover (mostly red, though) featuring an imitation of the Japanese style of classic drawings of waves (only red, of course). 

Interior art is all B&W, with many interesting pieces of what seem to be typical D&D-style fantasy art, art with a slightly “Asian” thematic, illustrations of monsters, maps, and a considerable number of sample floor-plans at the back of the book.

You know, when I first heard of Red Tide and what it was about, I was fairly worried.  In part because of some accounts that were not altogether accurate, but in any case, what it sounded like it was going to end up being is a typical anti-imperialist modern college-liberal self-righteous bullshit hippie-morality tale masquerading as an RPG. And with what the premise of the book is all about, in the hands of a lesser writer no doubt that’s exactly what it would have been.  Had it been written by one of the Swine, it would have been your standard throwaway utterly-unclever “Civilized Humans BAD, Noble Orc Savages GOOD” pseudo-activist fairy-tales, and the author would no doubt have been really satisfied at how “brilliant” he was for making such a “bold” (that is, stupid) statement, and had all the pseudo-activist crowd pat him on the back for it.

But Kevin Crawford is clearly not one of the Swine, and he went a different route: instead of doing something along those lines, he went ahead and did something that was REALLY clever and bold, by not falling into that trap and instead writing something about the pragmatic complexities of a bad situation.

Mind you, that’s not what’s really smart about Red Tide.  No, what’s smart about Red Tide is that he did it in a way that you actually have a playable and interesting setting! That is, it actually fulfills its stated purpose of being a game setting to play D&D in, rather than just a facade so that the author can hammer a morality-story of his ideological-choosing down your throat.

At this point, you may not have any idea what I’m going on about, so please allow me to explain the basic premise of Red Tide: its a fantasy setting, ostensibly compatible with Labyrinth Lord (which of course means its basically compatible with any old-school edition of D&D or its variants), that details a world where most of reality has been consumed by an apocalyptic event; the aforementioned “red tide” that has swept across the world devouring everything in its path, except one small chain of islands.  Here, the last civilized survivors of this world came in search of refuge.  They found these islands full of native humanoids (collectively called the “Shou”, but mercifully termed orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, etc.).  The civilized humans, elves, dwarves and halflings proceeded to conquer the island and make a fairly merciless war against the barbaric natives, who until then had spent much of their time fighting amongst themselves.  Mostly victorious, they drove the humanoids back into the wilder parts of the islands’ interior (though since then the Shou have fought back in various waves, sometimes retaking significant territories), and the civilized folk then proceeded to establish various different types of small kingdoms on the islands.

Now, the setting does have some elements of questioning this invasion, though the author has also gone to great pains to demonstrate the Shou as brutal and merciless in their fight against the refugees; but the real secret kicker of the setting (the sort of thing I don’t normally divulge in a review, but in this case I think its important to do so) is that the Shou are key to having any hope of holding back and defeating the Red Tide.

Again, in the hands of a less interested or talented world-builder, we’d see a black and white soppy morality tale of evil imperialists and noble savages with mystic powers who are unquestionably right, but fortunately Crawford avoids this trap.  Instead, the Shou are depicted as brutal in their barbarity and unaware of their own significance, and the colonists as a desperate mix of good and bad, all trying above all to survive. The Red Tide itself is more than just a macguffin for the story, rather its an alien entity bent on consuming all reality in its path, and capable of insinuating itself into peoples’ dreams, twisting their minds and bodies to corruption by playing on their hopes and desperation.  Both the Shou and these “tidespawn” make fascinating opponents for any adventuring group, though the latter are of necessity to be destroyed while the former must usually be destroyed for pragmatic purposes, but in any long-term campaign would need to ultimately be made aware of their destiny if there’s any hope of stopping the end of the world.

There’s notable sophistication in this setting and a GM can run it in a number of different ways.  Like his former work, Stars Without Number, the inclination of the author is to direct GMs to run it as a sandbox, with an open style of play directed by the PC party and their movement and choices, in how they interact with an emulated living world.  There is a chapter of the book dedicated to how to do this, and a number of aids I’ll talk about a bit more below.

I should note, in case it was not already obvious, that Red Tide is not a complete RPG; it is a setting and sourcebook, but requires that you have LL or some other D&D-esque ruleset to play. In theory, you could also play it with some other fantasy rule-set but this would require some modification.
So what do you get in the book?

For starters, there’s a lengthy background on the setting itself; important in this case because of the unusual particularities of the setting.  Next you get guidelines of how the various races of baseline-D&D (humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings, plus humanoids) fit into the setting; all of them are familiar but also particularly tweaked to fit the setting. Humans are divided into various racial backgrounds; you have the Eirengarders (who are “european”), Eshkanti (who are “arab”), Gadaal (“celts”), Imperials (the most significant/dominant civilized human group in the setting, who are basically “Chinese”), Kueh (“japanese”), and Skandr (“vikings”, who were actually settlers on some of the islands prior to the time of the apocalypse).

You get quite a few details on the geography and topography of the islands, called the Sunset Islands, including very decent random encounter tables (only the first of a plethora of excellent random table material in this book; like with Stars Without Number, the author has gone out of his way to provide a great deal of awesome random elements to help with play!).

The setting itself is by its nature geographically limited; everywhere outside the Sunset Isles has been consumed by the red tide, after all.  However, the islands themselves are still quite large and provide an ample amount of diverse locales for adventuring.  There are vast areas of wilderness still ruled by the Shou, and then a number of different city-state areas settled by some of the major racial groups of refugees.  These each have their own particular character: Xian is the great capital city of the Imperials, Tien Lung a corrupt and decadent city ruled over by degenerate wizards, Altgrimmr is a dwarven stronghold, Hohnberg is the Eirengarder city with a european feel, Kitaminato is the Kueh city which has given itself over in a dark pact with the demonic Hell Kings in order to survive, and Nordheim is the chief city of the Skandr vikings.  There are several major islands (including one that is larger by far than all the others) and a number of smaller islands that feature remote and peaceful villages or dark and sinister lairs of powerful wizards or demons. The setting features ruins both in the form of the Westmark, a region that was once settled by the colonists but then overrun and and destroyed by the Shou, and also in the form of more ancient ruins that were created by ancient lizardmen that were once the original inhabitants of the isle but have long since collapsed into decadence.

The setting material provides a number of excellent maps, both hexmaps and otherwise, detailing the geographical features, points of interest, climate, and political boundaries of the islands.

About 17 pages of material are provided detailing the important city states, and their views on things like slavery, magic, religion, gender and economy.  You also get a chapter dedicated to explaining the roles and how to play the different classes/races in the setting. Largely speaking, these are the standard LL classes/races, but there are a couple of additions, such as the Scions (elves born in a human body), Shou Witches, and the Vowed (a monk class with some interesting wuxia-style martial arts).

There’s also a section on magic and how magic works in the setting, along with a few new styles of magic (including the atrocious Stitched Path magic of the decadent Tien Lung wizards), new cleric spells, magic user spells, magic for shou witches and Scion “Wyrds”, as well as some new magic items.

There’s a ten page “bestiary” chapter, which covers some of the specific monsters of the setting, including the Hell Kings, the various Shou humanoid types, and the somewhat cthulhuesque “tidespawn” (the mutations created by beings who’ve been warped by the Red Tide).

The chapter on how to run a Sandbox is impressive, in fact more impressive than its equivalent in Stars Without Number, including guidelines for creating specific sites in the sandbox, complete with random tables to help you define the natures and challenges of these places.  This is an incredible resource for a sandbox game. A “court site”, for example, might be a noble’s court, an extended family, a business, a school, a temple, or a Tong (gang).  Each one of these will then have a (optionally randomly determined) number of important people, and a conflict (again, randomly determined if the GM wishes, through tables in the book).  Each specific site type has its own tables for determining the type of important people, the sources of these people’s power, and other NPCs that might be met there. And just as there are “court sites”, there are also “borderland sites”, “city sites”, and “ruin sites” (in this case complete with NPC statblocks). This chapter is one of the largest of the book, covering 55 majestic pages.

The book also has a shorter chapter detailing the secrets of the nature of the Red Tide; I think I’ve already divulged more than I should on this subject, but suffice it to say that the Red Tide has been thought out, and while obviously any GM could change its nature if he desired, or just leave it a mystery in his game, the book itself doesn’t abandon GMs to their own speculation on the matter.  Instead, it has a definite nature, purpose, and a way (however slim) of defeating it (though that would clearly be the herculean task of an entire campaign, probably one that would require reaching very high levels).

Finally, much like in SWN, the end of the Red Tide book contains a number of truly excellent “game resource” tables: a set of tables to quickly create a Red-Tide cult, person and place name table for Dwarves, Eirengarers, Elves, Eshkanti, Gadaal, Halflings, Imperials, Kueh, Shou, and Skandr; notes on the types of businesses that might be found in villages, towns and cities; quick NPC-creation tables, room dressing tables, and a spectacular (and useful!) set of sample blueprints for villages, temples & shrines, underground tunnels, border outposts, deep and hillside caves, estates, and ruins.

So, on the whole Red Tide is an excellent product. It certainly cements Crawford as one of the truly great writers of the OSR, and one of the rare ones who can write not just system (which, let’s face it, is not all that hard when you have D&D as a base to go from) but setting, which is a much trickier beastie.  As a game setting it makes for an excellent campaign world, and while its quite contained, there’s certainly decent amounts of material that a GM of any other setting could borrow for use in their own world; both in terms of actual setting details and in terms of methodology (the book might just inspire me to do similar “site” templates for my own Arrows of Indra game).


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + H&H’s Beverwyck

(Originally reposted May 23, 2013)

Thursday, 21 August 2014

DCC Campaign Update: GOLDEATER! (and the Derpy Horse of Destiny)

In this weeks fun-soaked adventure, the PCs were shocked by the fact that:

-Bolto the Conversation-loving Robot makes an awful barista.

-the airing of 'Matlock' would lead the world's greatest and oldest human adventurer to use a Cracker of Wishing to get them back to his palace on time.

-the defeat of the Eye Tyrants but not the Halconlords (and their guiding daemon Zargon) would end up ruining a far-too-intricate-to-work plan on the part of Sezrekan.

-the Demon Zzaszz was perilously close to capturing the Derpy Horse of Destiny in order to ritually sacrifice it and thus finally be able to transcend the Qlippothic breach to take on material form in the world, and conquer it.

-the Derpy Horse of Destiny was recently spotted somewhere in the Great Furry Plains.

-if the plan to have the Eye Tyrants and Halconlords mutually destroy each other doesn't work, one can always try to enact a plan to get the Halconlords and the Demon Zzaszz destroy each other.

-ancient burial mounds are a dangerous place, if you believe a totally insane Transparent Mutant Druid.

-choosing to put a drug-dealing human together with a drug-smoking elf for the first watch of the night is generally a bad idea.

-if you are sufficiently stoned, a Sequester Alarm just sounds like an annoying buzzing noise in your head.

-the Lumpy-Brown Mutants are vassals of the Gold Mutants of the Grand City of Goldhalcon, which may or may not have anything to do with the Halconlords, it's not clear.

-Goldhalcon is ruled by Goldeater, the criminal mastermind.

-Gold mutants literally eat gold to become more powerful.  Goldeater has apparently eaten a LOT of gold in his long lifespan.

-Goldeater also has a Council of Seven-and-a-Half Wizards, a dangerous bodyguard named Mr.Shin who has a deadly cravat; plus lasers, land-sharks, land-sharks with lasers attached to their heads, a semi-secret Volcano Bunker hideout just outside the city, control over Orbital Death Satellites, a plan to extort "One Million gold pieces!" from the neighbouring kingdoms, and a sensible and progressive municipal gun control policy.

-Goldeater also has a potentially-copyright-infringing theme song.

-Goldeater is, in spite of all this, the 'good guy' compared to the Demon Zzaszz.

-the Great Furry Plains is apparently populated by tribes of people who like to dress up as animals.

-the Capricorn Village, found on the plains, is a friendly community full of people who like to dress up as goats, rams, sheep, and one gorilla that may actually just be a real gorilla.

-Gold Mutant teamsters, in spite of working for a notoriously murderous criminal mastermind, are still really lazy.

-the Demon Zzaszz has sent not one but two of his Wraith Princes to capture the Derpy Horse of Destiny.

-there's also an elite team of Halconlord Assassins heading to the increasingly crowded Great Furry Plains.

-the Derpy Horse of Destiny is the descendent of the primordial horse king, pure-bred to maintain all of his ancestor's magical power, and thus hopeless inbred. He wanders the last world seeking to bring joy and do good deeds for all living beings and leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.

-the Derpy Horse of Destiny, in spite of being protected by the forces of destiny and the ebb and flow of fortune and misfortune, can be captured by sufficiently powerful spell checks.

-astonishingly, a group of lollygagging teamsters taken by surprise are absolutely no match for an equal number of highly trained Halconlord assassins.

-likewise, a team of veteran Gold Mutant soldier-goons are no match for a Wraith Prince. 

-on the other hand, a Wraith Prince is no match for a sufficiently powerful gender-bending magic missile.

-when figuring out what to do with a derpy magic horse, it's a bad idea to totally forget that there was a second Wraith Prince in the vicinity.

-at the end of the day, no matter how loveable and lucky a Derpy Horse of Destiny may be, no amount of derping around can save it from Sezrekan getting what Sezrekan wants.

-unbeknownst to almost anyone, recently deceased Derpy Horses lay eggs.


Currently Smoking: Blatter Diplomat + C&D's Crowley's Best

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

"Only Players Roll" is the Exact Opposite of Good Design

I know it's become a trend lately, in some RPGs in certain quarters, to have a system where the GM never gets to roll the dice, and only the players roll for everything.

Now, in some cases, we could say that there may be nefarious motivations for this, based on a longstanding distrust certain groups have toward GMs in general; there's been for a long time a line of thought among certain gamers that the GM should be if at all possible 'deposed' from "power"; and if that's a motive then forbidding the GM from rolling dice is a particularly egregious case of anti-GM paranoia; it presumes that the GM will "cheat" on his rolls and thus abuse the players. 

But let's ignore that for a moment. Let's assume that these games have no anti-GM bias going and their motivation for making all rolls the responsibility of the players is some kind of attempt instead to make the game somehow more 'fun' for the players.  If that's the case, this mechanic is still really bad design.

It misses the point, you see, of the fundamental purpose of the RPG: to Immerse in a character you play in an emulated world.

It would seem the people who push forth this notion of taking the dice away from the GM never really got that point. A lot of them are some of the same people who were at one time trying to equate Immersion with either Fraud or Mental Illness, so go figure.

But for most gamers, as fun as rolling dice can be, the real epic moment is that instant where you are totally immersed in the game, where you are just your character, and almost forget you're playing a game.  Where it feels real.

Any time that you are suddenly interrupted and told "roll the dice" is a moment that snaps you out of that state, at least a tiny bit.  It interrupts immersion.

There's a reason why players of games like Amber, Lords of Olympus, or Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, end up talking to everyone who'll listen (and some who don't care to) about these intense roleplaying experiences, campaigns full of epic character development and close personal attachment to the game: it's because in these games, the rules almost disappear for the player.  You just know your strengths and weaknesses, and you just play your guy. You don't have to fiddle with points, you don't have to interrupt what you're describing to roll the dice.

If anything, if the point is to get the best possible roleplay experience, the exact OPPOSITE of what the anti-GM crowd are suggesting is the ideal scenario: the GM should roll all the dice.

That's a theoretical, of course. There are plenty of players for whom the rolling of dice is part of the fun, even if it's not the central aspect of RPG play.  And there's a reason why the formula that's worked so well all these decades is one where both GM and players roll dice at particular times and to varying degrees. But really, of the various options (no dice, GM  rolls all, Players and GM both roll, only players roll), the least useful for developing roleplay and immersion is the scenario where all the dice-rolling responsibility falls on the players.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Poker + Rattray's Marlin Flake

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Golden Age Campaign Update

This weekend we ran an adventure which saw the first major change in roster for the JSA in several years: Starman, Daredevil, Green Lantern, Flash and Doctor Fate all passed to reservist status for a variety of reasons, while Wildcat and Mr. Terrific joined the JSA to bolster its ranks. 

This new team had greatly reduced power, and so asked the Mystery Men along for a particularly dangerous mission: their acquaintances in the sunken city of Atlantis had been attacked by an advanced Nazi U-boat, under the command of Captain Zahl:

Who stole the legendary Trident of Poseidon with the help of an army of Deep Ones (which the nazis subsequently betrayed, but not before taking a few Spawn of Cthulhu with them).  The combined Mystery Men/JSA team-up had to recover the trident and destroy the Spawn before the Nazis could use both as a last-ditch effort to turn the war around.

With a bit of help from the Blackhawks, they managed to do just that, but not before several hijinks ensued; including Hourman being temporarily controlled by Poseidon himself, and the Atom discovering he had mutated a superpowered Atomic Punch as a result of radiation exposure he'd suffered a couple of years back.

The PCs also met the Atlantean Regency Council leader Vulko:

They learned from Vulko that the last king of Atlantis had recently died, and that there was currently a sort of 'succession crisis' going on that left unclear who would take the Atlantean throne.  No sign of a guy in green pants and orange scale mail just yet, but it was yet another of a variety of signs that had appeared in the campaign over the last few years that the seeds of the silver age are present.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Horn + Gawith's Navy Flake

Nobody Told me There'd Be Regular Meetings Like These..

Monday's blog entry was cancelled because I ended up spending the last 12 hours (note, till 4am!) doing Masonic business.  

Who'd have thought that being in charge of the local group dedicated to secret world domination would be really hard work?!

Sure was fun, though.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Bent Billiard + C&D's Crowley's Best

Sunday, 17 August 2014

“Real Magick” in RPGs, Continued

Before I go on with things real magicians do (or would-be real magicians routinely fail to do), I thought I should address a mechanical issue.  In “modern occult” themed games, usually there is some kind of special mechanic or set of mechanics that are meant to reflect the state of both a magic-user’s power, and the state of his “mental health” in whatever form as he works magick.

Obviously, none of these have been really well done as accurate reflections of what goes on in a magician’s career. To give some examples of what I’m talking about here, in CoC you have “sanity” and “Cthulhu Mythos” stats, in Unknown Armies you have the madness meters, in oMage you had “paradox” (if I recall correctly), etc.

So what kind of stats would you really have to have to reflect the state of a magician’s attainment, and his deterioration in turn, if you were trying to reflect how “real” magick is done in our modern world?
I’ve thought about this for a bit, and I think you’d have to do something like the following:
First, you’d need a stat to reflect the Magician’s ongoing state of enhanced perception, the flowering of intuitive knowledge, the capacity to see into the supernatural world, or the general sense of transcending the mundane; let’s call this Gnosis.  Gnosis would start at basically zero, but your goal would be to gain in it as time went by.  Gnosis can only be gained by what Gurdjieff called “Shock points”, moments of spiritual crisis where something sufficiently outside your mundane understanding of reality happens that it leads to a potential growth in awareness.  Basically, “mind-blowing experiences” and general weird shit happening.

Most people have some of this weird shit happen in their life at some point or another, yet usually they end up repressing it (this means that a Shock moment only has the potential to lead to gain in Gnosis, more on that later).  But for magicians, there is almost always some initial event that takes place, something that knocks them out of their consensus of reality sufficiently that they can’t ignore it, and this leads them into the study of magick in the first place, however half-assed or seriously they may go about it from there. 

Gnosis is increasingly  hard to develop as you go along; this is because any previous experience is no longer a Shock.  For example, dropping acid, the first time that you do it, completely blows out your frame-of-reference, your ego has nothing to compare it to; by the second time you do it,  you already do have something to compare it to; the first time.

So a Shock has to be something different each time, and has to lead to a progression in one’s understanding for it to even have a chance to increase Gnosis.  I would probably run this as some kind of 0-100 ranged stat, where each time you experience a shock you would roll a percentile die, and if you got HIGHER than your current level of Gnosis, you would gain a certain number of Gnosis points. Any experience that was too mundane, or that was a retread of what you had experienced previously, would not grant you new Gnosis points, though it may be useful in other ways. This would be a tricky thing to govern, because your state of mind can affect whether something is a Shock or not; if you repeat the exact same action (for example, performing a certain ritual) but your state of mind has changed sufficiently, it might count as an entirely new Shock, as it provides you with some new revelation. 
Gnosis wouldn’t be the only important statistic to keep track of, however.  There’s the flipside of Gnosis, which is Ego.  “Ego” in this case refers to the “illusion of the world”, to the construct of ideas and concepts, memories and outside influences on your being that you’ve patched together and decides is “you”, as well as your ideas about reality and how reality works.  Everyone would start with a certain level of Ego, a measure of how strong their personality is. Any Shock which successfully generates Gnosis should also reduce Ego. But on the other hand, any Shock which FAILS to generate Gnosis could potentially increase Ego.  That is, you perform a ritual or have an experience that presents you with the chance to redefine your whole concept of yourself or reality; it creates a Shock (a spiritual crisis), and the next question becomes how you deal with that Shock.  You can be receptive to it and allow it to change you, that means Gnosis is generated.  On the other hand, you can simply fail to take advantage of the change.  But you can also react strongly against the change, trying to hold onto the Ego. Then you create new kinds of justifications for yourself, to avoid having to change, you rationalize the experience, and use it instead of as a vehicle for alchemical transformation, as a way to reinforce your existing prejudices about reality.  Thus, your Ego gets stronger.  So I would say that any Shock experience that fails to raise your Gnosis would require a test against Ego, to see if Ego increases.  Basically, any Shock event that raises your ego is an experience so terrifying (maybe LITERALLY terrifying, or not, but definitely terrifying to your sense of self-definition) that you just refuse to accept it as it really is and build up a fantasy to help strengthen your existing ideas instead.

The third stat of importance in all this would be Obsession.  As Shocks occur, whether they increase Gnosis or affect Ego, they can end up generating a certain amount of Obession in the magician; this is the closest to “madness” that you would see.  Someone under the effects of Obsession would be caught up in the distraction of the events that caused the Shock; they would end up getting lost in the minutiae of the vehicles used to obtain the Shock (be they drugs, magical ritual, ecstatic frenzy, kabbalistic numerology, alchemical gobbledygook, metaphysical ruminations, etc etc.), and this would complicate both their ability to function in the everyday world, and their ability to continue developing magically.  Someone who is being affected badly by obsession would be that guy who gets caught up in the visible appearances of “being a powerful magician”; the guy who can’t keep his mouth shut about the subject, tries to talk about the kabbalah or pagan gods, or whatever he’s into, to anyone at all who’ll listen; the guy who starts ignoring his regular life and work and relationships to instead spend all his time trying to study or talk about or summon up demons or read tarot cards or find the numerical significance of every little thing that comes along.  Like Gnosis or Ego, you’d have to mechanically create a chance of generating Obsessions whenever you had a Shock Experience, and you could require someone to make a roll against their obsession value at different times to see if the Obsessions don’t end up interfering with either their magical study (obsession tends to create “blinders” where you ignore certain avenues in favor of your pet obsessions) or their social lives (obsession turns you into a nutter); failing an Obsession check might lead to a small increase in your Obsession level, while doing certain other things (meditation, intentionally trying to build up social connections, psychological self-analysis, etc) might have a chance of slightly reducing your level of Obsession.  Later Shock experiences would affect Obsession in such a way that a given Shock might either increase or reduce obsession; so that I’d probably have any Shock point cause a direct percentage “check” in obsession, where if you rolled equal to or under your current level, you’d gain more Obsession, and if you rolled higher than your current level you’d reduce your Obsession. Note that unlike Ego, which would only increase in the case of failing a Gnosis check, obsession would be checked in every Shock event, so you could theoretically gain both Gnosis and Obsession at the same time.  That’s pretty common, actually.

Should someone get to 100 Gnosis points, they would become an “Adept”, someone who has obtained a permanent state of awareness that there are dimensions beyond the material and the ability to connect to that altered state of consciousness beyond the rational mind. Someone in this state would be able to permanently access their “higher self” (in magick sometimes called the “True Will” or more poetically, the “Holy Guardian Angel”).  They would not necessarily always be willing to follow the direction and guidance of that True Will,  however.  Further Shock experiences would not need to be tested against Gnosis, but could still work against Ego, either to reduce or increase it, as the Adept struggled between the construced-psyche he continues to identify with, and the higher state of consciousness he is now constantly (and sometimes painfully) aware of.  Note that “True Will” rarely has much to do with what your ego thinks it wants at any given time, it is rather a kind of cosmic consciousness that has to do with your higher purpose; from the perspective of the human being at the level of the ego, it can seem like an entirely different entity, hence this notion of an “Angel” trying to guide you, and often demanding things of you that are very difficult.

Its possible for your Ego to reach 0, in which case you will have become a “Magister Templi”, a buddha, completely transformed into a new level of consciousness (where the physical body, the mind, the Higher Self, and what you previously believed to be the Divine are all experientially understood to be one single thing); but only if you can cross the “trial of the abyss”, the dark night of the soul that is the final challenge of the ego’s will to dominate versus your true will to transcend.  A person confronting the Abyss would have to face all of their resistance, fears, attachments and obsessions, and be willing to let them all go.  Failing the trial of the Abyss, resisting the annihilation of the ego to the point of shutting one’s self in, would result in the creation of a new Ego-construct instead of transcendence; what Crowley called a “Black Brother”, trapped in delusions of power and grandeur, and unable to let go of those accomplishments they cling to.  It would be theoretically possible, but very difficult, to overcome this and again face the abyss a second time.  Mechanically, this initial failure of overcoming the Abyss could be done by having your Ego raised back up to the level of your Obsession (which would be that which the magician would cling to, after all), and for a subsequent attempt to overcome the Abyss requiring some kind of very strong Shock event, and a check with greater difficulty than the former (with another failure causing an increase in Ego to some multiplier of your obsession; ie. obsession x 2, x3, x4 etc. for each failure).

Having an Ego score get up to 100 would simply mean that you have an extremely rigid sense of self and reality, you would be almost completely unwilling to accept anything that was not your own illusions about what you are and what reality is like. It would make it very difficult to be able to reduce your Ego level, as you’d basically be in deep denial about everything. Having an Obsession level of 0 would just mean you’re a very well-functioning human being, whereas an Obsession level of 100 would make you utterly batshit certifiably insane.

There’s probably one more thing that would need to be mentioned here; and that’s what I’ll call “Masks”.  The Ego is seen as a problem for the magician’s ultimate goal of “transcendence”, unity with the universe, cosmic consciousness, whatever you want to call it; but the Ego is also the personality, it is what we normally define ourselves as, and the basis for our interactions with everyone else, who also define themselves as their egos (in fact, the difference between magicians, and a few other spiritual practitioners, on the one hand and everyday people on the other is that most regular people don’t normally question that they are their personalities, and don’t even imagine that there is something else much greater beyond that which is also them).  So the “successful” magician can quickly run into a problem, which is that if you reduce your Ego without developing any skill to compensate for it, you will end up seeming basically “broken” from the perspective of everyday society; you won’t have a real personality, or a sufficiently stable one.  You’ll seem weird, disconnected (or obsessed, if your Obsession level has grown while your Ego has decreased), and generally uncomfortable to be around.  But the fact is that the Ego is just a kind of mask that people have glued onto their true nature, their inner vastness.  That vastness is uncomfortable and people can’t connect to it (in fact, one of the most common early “Shock” experiences of a new magician is when they run into some kind of teacher in whom they catch some glimpse of that vastness).  But if the Ego is just a mask, it is possible for a magician to  learn how to put on other masks at will; to basically create a personality (or as many personalities as he likes) and put them on as needed to deal with different people.  This would be a magical skill, which could be called “Masks”. 

To obtain it, the magician would have to perform practices and techniques of invocation, learning about archetypes and how to embody those archetypes, or how to create new archetypes.  Mechanically, he’d probably have to develop a level of Masks skill that was in some way greater than his level of Obsession, because Obsession acts as a total barrier to the effective use of a mask.  Someone who is successful in the use of a Mask skill would be able to essentially “construct” a temporary personality out of archetypal concepts; and would go from being socially inept due to low-Ego or high-obsession to being extremely socially capable, as he could create a different mask for different occasions as they were necessary (becoming a “regular guy” when he’s around regular guys, an intellectual around intellectuals, a hobbyist around hobbyists, a hobo around hobos, a hipster around hipsters, whatever).  This is not just “acting” or “bluff”, part of what wearing the mask does is temporarily incarnate the qualities of that mask-persona completely (its only comparable to acting in the sense of those very intense method-actors who go so totally into a role that they “become” the character).  Someone who became a “master of the temple” would have to continually rely on the wearing of Masks to be able to function in regular society at all.

The easiest masks would be those closest to your existing persona (or for those beyond the Abyss, the imitation of their prior persona); after all, that too is a mask, it just happens to be the one you’ve been wearing your whole life.

Anyways, that’s all I’ve got for now, and I’m not really planning on developing anything further in this direction; after all I’m not making an RPG here, just trying to create guidelines for others to try to use and develop stuff for their own “modern occult” campaigns.


Currently Smoking: Castello 4k Collection Canadian + Image Latakia

(originally reposted May 21, 2013, on the old blog)

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Giant-Sized D&D Backgrounds Collection Thread

I've been super busy lately writing up a storm for Dark Albion; last night in a frenzy of writing I got down a truly awesome chapter on 15th century Albion Law and Punishments.  It'll be a highly-accurate section on how late medieval law should look, portable to any other fantasy RPG setting that wants that kind of authenticity.   We've got everything there from sumptuary laws to petit-treason to a historically-accurate list of fines for petty offenses.

Next I'm going to doing a similarly accurate section on wealth and prices of goods.

In any case, for my blog entry today I thought I'd share a link to a little idea I had for a project on theRPGsite:  this thread is going to be a depository thread for any and all (free) D&D backgrounds available on the internet.  So that if someone wants to find some D&D backgrounds, they won't need to search through dozens of blogs or fan sites, they'll just be able to go to the RPGsite's mega thread and find member-submitted backgrounds, backgrounds ported from other locations, and links to backgrounds posted on blogs.

I predicted there'd be all kinds of stuff being done as fan-efforts for D&D 5e and that backgrounds would be one of the chief among them, particularly since you could use backgrounds as readily for an OSR game as for D&D; and I can see that this is rapidly becoming true.
So, if you have written up some backgrounds for D&D, or if you know of some that are really worthy of standing out, make sure to post them on that thread!

Ok, now I'm off to get another hour of writing done before my ICONS game..


Currently Smoking: Moretti Rhodesian + Gawith's Squadron Leader